A medical researcher at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Yaba, Lagos, Dr Aina Oluwagbemiga, has said that the institute was yet to see any herbal product that cures malaria in the country.
Aina, who is a Deputy Director of Research, at the Centre for Research in Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Biochemistry and Nutrition Department at NIMR, said the herbal products so far seen can only suppress the parasite but did not cure it as chloroquine does.
The deputy director with over 25 years of experience in malaria research, said most of the herbal preparations for the treatment of malaria in the country with various claims by their manufacturers have no proof of efficacy.
Aina disclosed this during an exclusive interview with PUNCH Healthwise.
He urged Nigerians to go for tests and be sure that they have malaria before going for treatment.
Malaria is a disease caused by a plasmodium parasite, transmitted by the bite of infected female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles, with varying severity based on the species of the plasmodium.
The symptoms are chills, fever, and sweating, usually occurring a few weeks after being bitten and treatment includes antimalarial drugs.
The World Health Organisation says malaria is a preventable and treatable disease that has, however, continued to have devastating impacts on the health and livelihoods of people around the world.
The researcher noted that NIMR had tested over 50 herbal products for the treatment of malaria in the last two years and none was able to prove the claims of their manufacturers that they cure malaria.
He explained, “NIMR is yet to see any herbal product that cures malaria, We are yet to see. We have not seen anyone for now. From my own experience, I have not seen any herbal product that cures malaria.
“What they do is just to lower the body temperature and the parasites will just be suppressed but after some time, they will come back. I have not seen anyone that cures it like chloroquine does.
“We are still looking for them. Although some people have been claiming that they cure malaria, I am yet to see anyone and I have told them to bring their products and let’s try them and see whether it is going to work.
“We believe that our herbal products do work in certain areas and we know that we cannot stop people from taking herbal products.”
According to him, that was why the Director General of NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako, established the Centre for Research in Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the institute to verify those claims by subjecting them to clinical evaluation to ascertain their safety and efficacy.
“He said that we should look at their claims and let us see if the herbal products are safe for consumption. That is why we normally call them to bring their products, let’s do a safety profile on you and let us be sure that it is even safe for consumption.
“So after we have done the test and it is good for consumption, then you do an efficacy study, what you claimed that this your product does, does it do?
“That’s when we now go into an efficacy study. But as I said for malaria, I am yet to see any herbal product that cures malaria”, he said.
Aina stated that people need to do a test to know whether they have malaria and not just assume they have malaria, adding that a lot of illnesses and ailments mimic malaria symptoms.
He noted, “For you to know that you have malaria, you have to, first of all, do a test. Let us see the malaria parasite there. So after the test has been done, go ahead and take your herbal product.
“After a day or two, we do another test to see whether the parasite has cleared or not. That is how to do an efficacy study and that is what we do with this our orthodox medicine, Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy to see whether it is still effective or not.
“As for herbal products, a lot of people do claim that it does this, it does that but we are yet to see one that cures the malaria parasite.
“From my 25 years of experience working with malaria and using herbal products, I have not seen anyone that cured the parasite.
“I have tested more than 50 herbal products in the last two years but I have not seen anyone that can cure the parasite.
“All the products that we have seen so far, they only suppress malaria but they don’t cure. After some time, the parasite will still come out and the person will have these symptoms that he has malaria.”
He urged Nigerians to treat malaria with standard and approved medication.
The researcher counselled “A lot of people assume that they have malaria when they don’t have it. There are a lot of illnesses that mimic malaria symptoms.
“If we have symptoms of malaria, we must do a test and do it in a recognised facility.”
The 2020 World Malaria Report by the WHO indicated that Nigeria had the highest number of global malaria cases (27 per cent of global malaria cases) in 2019 and accounted for the highest number of deaths (23 per cent of global malaria deaths).
In a 2022 study published in BioMed Central Malaria Journal, the researchers said medicinal plants have a significant part in reducing the severity of malaria due to their widespread use.
They said more studies were needed to identify and develop effective novel drugs that could be employed in broader malaria eradication efforts